Dear Attorney General Sessions,
We write to express our strong opposition to the recent announcement that the Department of Justice is terminating the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and the Immigration Help Desk program (ICH). The termination of these programs would undermine fairness and the right to due process in our immigration court proceedings, all while slowing case processing, and increasing costs for the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Additionally, these actions directly contradict the express direction of Congress.
The Legal Orientation Program (LOP) and Immigration Help Desk Program (ICH) provide vital resources to individuals facing proceedings in immigration courts. The LOP program provides individuals in detention with in-person briefings on immigration court procedures as well as basic legal information and resources. Studies have shown that these programs save our immigration courts time and money, and in fact, the Justice Department's own website states that: "Experience has shown that the LOP has had positive effects on the immigration court process: detained individuals make wiser, more informed, decisions and are more likely to obtain representation; non-profit organizations reach a wider audience of people with minimal resources; and, cases are more likely to be completed faster, resulting in fewer court hearings and less time spent in detention." Given this body of evidence, we were shocked to hear about the Department's plans--which were brought to our attention not by the Department, but by concerned advocates.
The stated reasoning for the programs' "suspension" is so the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR") can "conduct efficiency reviews which have not taken place in six years." While we support efforts to engage in regular oversight, that does not justify the termination of these programs during that process. Previous reviews, including the 2012 review, were effectively conducted without interrupting the operation of the LOP program.
Lastly, the Department's announcement that it is terminating these programs runs counter to the very clear direction of Congress. The reports accompanying both the House and Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bills for fiscal year 2018 included clear expectations that the LOP program be continued in fiscal year 2018 at no less than the fiscal year 2017 level. In fact, the House report stated, "The recommendation sustains the current legal orientation program and related assistance, such as the information desk pilot," while the Senate specified that, "the Committee's recommendation maintains the fiscal year 2017 level of no less than $10,400,000 for LOP." The language in each of these reports was approved by the fiscal year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act (Public Law 115-141).
Recent efforts at the Department with regard to U.S. immigration courts raise serious concerns about the Department's commitment to fairness, due process, and constitutional requirements. In this case, these efforts also directly contradict the express direction of Congress in House Report 115-231, Senate Report 115-139, and Public Law 115-141 and its accompanying Explanatory Statement. Our expectation is that these programs will be resumed consistent with congressional intent. We look forward to your response.